1761 Michael Rauche Guittar Restoration (2023)
This guittar by Michael Rauche, dated 1761, has no interior maker's label but is signed on the back near the heel of the neck, "Rauche / in Chandos Street / London. 1761." However, the back of the headstock is stamped "PRESTON MAKER / LONDON" surmounted by the John Preston "JP" (or "JR") crowned logo, suggesting that at least the neck was provided by the Preston workshop.
The back and sides, each of one piece, are flamed maple or sycamore. The front is of two pieces of unidentified softwood. The instrument's body is notably larger than the signed Michael Rauche guittar from 1764 that I had an opportunity to restore in 2021—though that instrument did not have a Preston-stamped neck.
The guittar has a brass alloy metal flower that covers the square end of the peghead finial. The metal is fairly thin, suggesting that it was stamped and pressed into shape from a plate of materials as opposed to being cast.
The nut was disposed for ten strings in six courses, the highest four doubled, and it has a watch-key tuning system.
The watch-key tuning mechanism is of brass, engraved with a single letter "M" (or upside down "W"), matching those of several other extant guittars.
The tuning posts are all cut with three slots, one on the near side and two on the far size. The treble side tuning posts are also provided with a hole, while the bass side ones are not.
Inspection & Condition Report
In its initial state, the guittar was not in any way playable. An outward examination of the instrument revealed that the back was cracked in two places (first photo); the soundboard was cracked in three places and partially separated along the center joint; the back was concave (middle photo) and had come unglued from the sides in several spots; the decorative fingerboard edging was mostly missing, the ebony fingerboard edging had broken free, the tortoise shell veneer had come unglued in several areas, and the frets were protruding from the sides of the fingerboard, possibly due to shrinkage of the wood over time (third photo). Additionally, the soundboard was sunken due to the belly bars having come unglued. The strings were unplayable, as they were touching all along the fingerboard due to the sunken soundboard, and possibly due to the neck angle shifting over time.
Upon removing the back, an interior examination of the instrument revealed several loose bars on the front and evidence of a regluing of the diagonal bar on the treble side of the soundhole, as can be seen by a remainder of glue on the soundboard (glossy area, first photo). Additionally, the triangular piece supporting the end of the reglued diagonal bar was missing—a possible reason for the collapse of the bar and subsequent need for regluing. Remnants of previous wooden supports for a rose could also be seen around the soundhole.
On the back, the uppermost bar came free with very little coaxing, having come unglued for the majority of its length, while the other two back bars were unglued along their edges and partially loose along their lengths. The glue that could be seen at the back / back bar joints was very dry and brittle. A couple of glue drips on the inside of the back suggested that the repair to the diagonal soundboard bar may have been done through the soundhole with the back in place. Whether this was cause for the removal of the rose or whether the rose had long since been gone is unclear.
One thing that was apparent, though, is that the instrument had not been opened for quite some time—if ever—, as the interior was extremely filthy (as can be seen by contrast with some of the later photos), and the layers of dirt may have represented an accumulation since the creation of the instrument.
Interior: Repair & Restoration
The first step in the restoration was to clean the interior of any loose surface dirt. Areas to be repaired or reglued, such as where the the soundboard cracks needed to be cleated or where bars had to be reglued (such as the small bar immediately below the soundhole or all of the back bars) were cleaned extra thoroughly in order to be ready for the application of fresh glue. I tried not to clean any more than necessary, and I did not attempt to remove the extra glue from the prior repair, especially since the repair seemed to have held well.
Cracks were glued and cleats were installed over the soundboard cracks and the center joint, loose bars were given extra glue under their ends and carefully clamped, and a replacement for the missing triangular side support for the end of the diagonal treble bar was installed.
For the back, all three back bars were removed, all old glue was cleaned from the back and bars, and the bars were reglued. In addition, the back cracks were glued where possible and reinforced with linen cloth. A repair label was glued to the back in an unobtrusive location—though this was later removed and a new one installed to north of the upper bar for greater visibility after the decision had been made to complete a reconstruction of the rose.
Prior to the instrument's back being glued back in place, I eventually constructed and installed a replacement rose in what was likely the original style. (A full step-by-step account of the reconstruction can be seen here.) Each of the original softwood supports for the original rose were removed from around the interior of the soundhole, and new ones were created. The application of the ones in the 12 o'clock and 6 o'clock positions was particularly tricky, since cleats to keep the center joint closed had already been installed before a decision to replace the rose had been made.
In the process of cleaning and regluing, I was able to make several interesting observations on the interior:
First, as can be seen on this guittar, there is only one major soundboard bar. What may be less apparent from the photos at first glance is that the ends of the diagonal bars are let into a cutout in the main bar where the diagonals meet, supporting the ends. The feet of the bridge, when in place, occupy the triangular areas on either side of the diagonal bars and north of the main bar.
The back bars are extremely narrow, on the order of being offcuts from the soundboard. In addition, while I initially assumed that the back had become concave because the bars had come unglued, in point of fact the back bars were actually concave and appear to have been made that way. The circumference of their concave arch was close to the same so that the bars varied in the amount of concavity from about 1mm to 3mm, depending on the length of the bar. When glued in place, the back has a concavity of around 2mm maximum.
The interior of the guittar shows signs of the back, sides, and even the liners for the soundboard and back having been thicknessed with a toothing plane, as toothing marks are evident on all of them.
The liners appear to be made from the same wood as the sides, rather than being softwood, and may indeed have been offcuts from the sides. Interestingly, the ends of the liners for the back are tapered and have been let into grooves in the edges of the neck block instead of simply being cut square and butted against the block.
The neck heel was both glued and screwed to the neck block from the inside. I briefly attempted to remove the screw to inspect it, but it was fast in place. No further attempt was made to examine it.
The interior has three locations where there are square veneers glued to the sides (one on the bass side, two on the treble side, both shown above). Two of these are north of the main bar, though the second one on the trebles side is just south of it. The veneers, for lack of a better term, are extremely thin. Since they were still firmly glued in place, no effort was made to remove or reglue them. It is unclear what purpose they serve; there was no indication on the exterior of any cracks or any other issues. It is possible that these are areas where the sides were considered too thin and needed additional reinforcement.
Lastly, the full-length vertical supports attached to the sides also varied in number and placement. There was only one on the bass side, north of the main bar, though a rather larger trapezoidal piece of softwood was fitted as a support for the main bar. The back side of that vertical support abuts the end of the lowest back bar on the bass side. On the treble sides, there are two vertical supports. The southernmost one runs from the end of the main bar to the lowest back bar, while the northern one simply supports the middle back bar. All remaining back bar ends are supported by small triangular supports attached to the sides.
Exterior: Repair & Restoration
As mentioned above in the condition report, the fingerboard was in poor repair. The existing (original?) frets, which were gouged in places and protruding extensively from the side of the fingerboard, were removed carefully so as not to break the ebony edging or tortoise shell veneer. The remnants of ivory decoration were also removed at this time. I carefully reglued the tortoise shell veneers without disrupting or removing the red paint below the veneer. Next, I reglued the ebony fingerboard edging and cleaned each of the fret slots.
Because the fingeboard is no longer perfectly level and cannot be levelled due to the tortoise shell veneer, modern fret wire will not work, as it is not always tall enough to accommodate the inconsistencies in the board. Instead, I hand-fashioned each fret but cutting strips from brass plate of the thickness matching that of the fret slot and bending them to a radius matching the fingerboard (in this case, close to 4.5"). Each fret was rubbed with fresh garlic and glued with hide glue, using an old recipe for gluing metal. (The components in the garlic apparently etch the metal on a microscopic level and allow for better wetting.) This method was chosen for its reversibility, in the event that the frets ever need to be removed or replaced. The frets were then carefully levelled with a series of large diamond stone sharpening plates, evening out the inconsistencies in the fingerboard so that no fret was too low.
The prior bone or ivory fingerboard decoration was almost entirely missing from the end of the fingerboard and was broken and poorly fitted near the nut. I removed the remaining pieces, made a paper rubbing of the design cut into the tortoise shell, then created replacements from thin veneers of bison bone. The original nut was replaced with bone as well, as the customer wished for the guittar to be fitted with 7 courses. (See more, below.) In addition, I fashioned a new capo out of bone padded with leather, using a modern brass screw and thumbwheel.
The ebony bridge as I received it appears to have been original but later modified. The top of the bridge had been slotted and fitted with a large modern fret wire, which was then grooved to guide the strings. Traces of grooves in the top of the ebony (under the fret wire) suggest that they may have been the original string grooves. The original bridge was too low to be used with the current neck angle without adding risers to the bottom of the bridge feet. Instead, I fashioned a new, taller bridge of ebony and topped it with a strip of bone, like many of the originals. I weighed the original bridge, which came in at 97 grains. The replacement came in at 98 grains.
Though there were ten of the eleven original ivory hitch pins surviving for the ten strings I needed to accommodate, the missing one was in a location I needed for the first course. Though I could have moved one of the others, I opted instead to create a turned replacement from Tagua nut ("vegetable ivory"). The image above shows it before a little color was added to help it match the others better.
String Disposition: Six to Seven Courses
The guittar's owner wanted to explore if it could be converted to a seven course instrument. While the norm for guittars seems to have been to have ten strings in six courses, several guittars with eleven strings in seven courses have survived, including at least two by Rauche (one bowl backed, one standard), one by Prior, one keyed guittar by Preston, and one anonymous keyed guittar (Poulopoulos 2011, note 634). Since Rauche was known to have made seven course guittars, and since this instrument was fitted with eleven hitch pins and had its capo holes even more off center, the idea of fitting it for seven courses seemed not out of the question. However, the fact that the watch-key tuning system had a provision for ten strings meant that a compromise would need to be made.
While the typical disposition of strings was two single basses with the remaining four courses doubled, this was not set in stone, and other arrangements are known both in surviving instruments and images from the time (Poulopoulos 2011, pp. 358-9). The guittar tutors by Bremner (1758) and Geminiani (1760) both depict fingerboards with three single basses and three doubled treble courses. Since there was historical precedent for having only the top three courses doubled, I arranged the strings at the nut and bridge for four single bass courses and three doubled treble courses.
The eventual tuning employed was c-e-g-c'-e'-g' with a low G on the seventh course. The lowest four courses have been strung with silver-wound steel core strings, the third course with plain brass, and the top two courses with plain iron/steel.
This guittar was originally fitted with eleven hitch pins, while the watch-key tuning mechanism only enough tuning posts to support the use of ten strings.
Replacing the nut exposed the end of the fingerboard, which revealed that the fingerboard core had an arched groove cut into it (though it is filled by glue). An inspection of the far (tapered) end of the fingerboard shows a bit of this groove as well. It is not clear what the purpose of this groove is.
The location of the holes for the capo screw are significantly off center—more so than on other guittars.
The capo screw holes in the back of the neck do not have the square mortises as are found on other guittars, suggesting that the screw for the capo did not have a squared head.
The frets are slightly unevenly spaced, suggesting some sort of mild temperament other than equal. However, stringing and playing the guittar revealed a consistent intonation issue concerning the fifth fret. After checking and rechecking the action and bridge location, I measured the distances between each of the frets only to discover that the fifth fret was several millimeters closer to the nut than it should be in any temperament or tuning scheme. It appears that the fret was fitted in the wrong location, yielding an out-of-tune octave between the fifth fret note C and any other C on the fingerboard, whether fretted or open.
This guittar restoration gave me the opportunity to examine and document some unusual aspects of guittar construction and set up.
Soundboard barring: This is the first instance of which I am aware of a guittar having a barring pattern in which the intersection of the diagonal bars is let into a mortise in the main bar. Many of the other guittars that have a similar pattern of diagonal barring have the diagonals end before the main bar, and there are usually two major bars below the soundhole, with the bridge riding in the large area between them.
Concave back: This is the first instance of which I am aware of a guittar having back bars that are deliberately reverse-arched so that the back is concave over its width, as all others I have encountered or seen documented are either flat or arched.
Inset liner ends: This is the first instance of which I am aware of guittar liners being let into the edges of the neck block. The extra time and care to do this speaks highly of Rauche as a maker.
Body/neck joint screw: In his dissertation on the guittar, Poulopoulos (2011) suggests 1785 as a starting date of the use of screws on the body/neck joint of guittars, based on a depiction of one in John Goldsworth's guittar patent of the same year (pp. 323-4). I discovered one in use while restoring a 1764 Rauche guittar, but that guittar had evidence of numerous repairs, so it was not possible to know if that screw was original. However, if (as it seems) this 1761 Rauche guittar had not been opened before for repair, it is possible that the screw for the body/neck joint is in fact original, pushing the date of the use of the screw for the body/neck joint back almost 25 years before Poulopolous's suggested date.
"Reinforcement" veneers: It appears that Rauche may have used squares of softwood veneer to reinforce thinned areas or make up for defects in three areas of the sides.
Watch-key tuning mechanism: Poulopoulos (2011) proposes that tuning mechanisms with this "M" or upside down "W" stamp may have come from the workshop of William Warrell, whose company advertised a service to convert guittars from pegboxes to watch-key systems (pp. 400-1, 407-8).
Number of strings / hitch pins: As noted above, this guittar was fitted with eleven hitch pins, but the watch-key mechanism only supports the use of ten strings. The greater number of hitch pins coupled with the fact the holes for the capo screw are significantly off center, suggest that the guittar was possibly intended to have seven courses (3 single basses, 4 double trebles). However, the ten tuning posts is suggestive of that "standard" set up of six courses (2 single basses, 4 double trebles). The watch-key mechanism does not seem to have been added later, as there is no evidence of a neck graft. It is certainly possible that the entire neck was replaced some time early in the instrument's life, which could account for the "Preston Maker" stamp and the use of body/neck screw on such an early-dated instrument, but this seems unlikely, given how much work would be involved in replacing an entire neck versus grafting on a new head, as has been seen on some other surviving guittars. That said, a replacement neck cannot be ruled out entirely, and there does not seem to be a good explanation of the eleven hitch pins otherwise.
Fretting / tuning: As noted above, the fifth fret groove was in a location a couple of millimeters flat of where it should be for a perfect 4th. Fortunately, using the capo at the first fret yields an in-tune 4th at the regular sixth fret location, while the flatted regular fifth fret provides a slightly purer major 3rd. This does make one question whether the flattened fifth fret was a mistake or whether it was by design with the expectation that the instrument would be played with a capo. It is hard to fathom, given all of the other meticulous work on the construction of this instrument, that this could be such a careless error. On the other hand, if, as theorized above, a second neck was installed in order to replace a pegbox with with a watch-key tuning mechanism, it is also possible that the fingerboard was a replacement as well and could have been installed by someone other than Rauche.
I have taken complete measurements of this guittar, and I am in the process of finalizing a drawing of the instrument and its components, which will eventually be found here for purchase. I am also in the process of writing a fuller account that details the differences between this 1761 Rauche and the 1764 Rauche that I restored in 2021.
Only selected photos were shown here. A full photo album with high resolution images can be found here.
Bremner, Robert (1758; reprinted 1765), Instructions for the Guitar; with a collection of Airs, Songs and Duet, fitted for this Instrument. (Edinburgh: R. Bremner)
Geminiani, Francesco (1760), The Art of Playing on the Guitar or Cittra. (Edinburgh: R. Bremner).
Poulopoulos, Panagiotis (2011). The Guittar in the British Isles, 1750-1810. [Doctoral dissertation, University of Edinburgh]. Edinburgh College of Art thesis and dissertation collection. http://hdl.handle.net/1842/5776